Johnston’s Web Sales Returning, Blames Election For Stagnant Ads

News publisher Johnston Press’ online commercials are now getting on back to where they were a year ago.

January-to-May digital revenue, from its network of 319 websites, was up 12.3 percent compared with last year, CEO John Fry’s Johnston says in a Wednesday-morning interim management statement.

Through 2009, Johnston’s digital income had slumped 11.1 percent to £17.1 million for the full year. So it’s just getting back to last year’s mark.

In December, it began trialling reader payments on a small number of websites. The trial has ended with reports of miniscule take-up. CFO Stuart Patterson (via Guardian.co.uk):-

“We are trying to understand newspaper buying patterns and how [pay walls] impact levels of advertising online. The trial wasn’t aiming to create a new revenue stream. We are active watchers and observers of the pay wall environment. This year is one of learning and experimentation in the digital space. We don’t see any reason why [pay strategies] will not evolve into the digital and mobile space. In terms of regional titles the uniqueness of our content is somewhat greater than national titles. The BBC has some regional impact but it does not go down to the local level that we do.”

Print, however, still seems in a right mess – no sign of a recovery there. Even including web ads, company-wide advertising income is down 7.1 percent from last year. Interesting justification…

“Advertising over the first Quarter was fairly stable. However, performance in April was a little more subdued, primarily due to the General Election. We would expect the Election’s impact to continue through the second Quarter and therefore not see any significant improvements in the current trend until Q3 2010.”

You might have thought voters flocking to read news about their prospective MPs would have given advertisers many more eyeballs to pitch to.

But, while others contemplate a return to last year’s business performance, Johnston still has plenty of reason to be cautious. It’s adding another £5 million to the £10 million annual cost cuts it had forecast to make, to sneak in to a full-year showing that meets the market’s expectation.